First, let me state that I am an atheist. As such I do not believe there is any god—moral or not. The assumption is that if (this is a super if) there were a god, could that god be moral? I will look at various concepts or definitions of god and see whether these types of gods can be moral or not. I will not go into what makes an act morally good or bad, except in brief.
At the start when talking about being moral I am talking about doing good, and I refer to being bad as immoral. Amoral is neither nor. But, being moral could also mean the capability to act in a good or bad manner, and this is often what I think of as the issue here in the most broadest of terms, and will at times mean.
[Note: I use the male form of god, but obviously the analysis could be equally valid, if it is valid, for a goddess or a neuter god. I suppose I could use the term deity, but when most people discuss god the term used is “god,” so I will stick with god.]
The first god I will look at is a perfect god. Most theists consider the god they believe in as being perfect. The ontological proof of god’s existence is based on perfection. I will not discuss this proof in general. It has been shown that it is not a valid proof by many, including Immanuel Kant, one of the giants of philosophy (not that I would agree with his whole philosophy).
[Note: a use the term bad instead of evil because of evil’s religious overtones.]
I will state without conclusive argument that in order to be moral a person or in god’s case a being needs to have some kind of choice. What I will say is that this makes sense in the way we use words like “good” and “bad” when assessing moral actions. We praise a person when she or he does a morally good act, and we blame a person when he or she does a morally bad act. It is said by theologians (despite not being able to determine the number angels able to dance on the head of a pin) that angels are not moral beings because they are incapable of doing bad. How they come to this conclusion, when they also believed that Satan and his followers were angels gone bad, I do not know. So I am willing to assume that a perfect god cannot do anything that is morally bad.
This scenario does not make god immoral either. This god would be an amoral being, similar to an animal, which is not capable of feeling guilt, at least according to animal behaviorist Marc Hauser. He has some good arguments in favor of this, and since he fully admits that animals do have other emotions and are capable of thought in some form, his point of view may very well be correct.¹ Of course, a perfect god is not an animal. For one thing animals are not said to be perfect in the same sense as god.
So with the assumption that to be moral one has to be capable of doing both good and bad, I will claim that a perfect god cannot be moral. In essence a perfect god has no choice. By being perfect there cannot be any change in such a god, or any perfect being. Any change would negate that god’s perfection. Here is a question I will not attempt to answer – would any perfect being have to be considered a god? One more – can there be two perfect beings or gods?
I have one further point to make. If a perfect god is incapable of acting badly, is this god really perfect? An incapability would indicate a non-perfect being. This only goes to show that the concept of a perfect god has its problems with consistency. If this consistency cannot be overcome than the concept of a perfect god is unworkable, and hence a perfect god could not exist. Whoops—I did say I was not going to discuss the ontological argument.
I will now move on to an all-good god. An all-good god does not necessarily mean a perfect god. But, the problem is similar to the perfect god. If all actions by an all-good god are by definition good, and this god cannot do any bad acts, than an all-good god is neither moral or immoral, but as with the perfect god, is amoral.
Is there any possibility of an all-good god acting badly? I bring this up because who is deciding whether an act is good or bad? The all-good god? Well, if an act is good because an all-good god declares it, it would be good by fiat. How does this god determine what is good or not? Or, does this god declare an act good by some standard outside itself? Surely, a lot of questions here. But, this points out the difficulty in relying on a god to dictate goodness and badness. If its good because a god declares it, than it is arbitrary. If its good by some outside measure, than god is not needed to determine what is good or bad.
Anyway, these questions and any answers to them do not affect the basic conclusion that an all-good god is amoral and not moral or immoral. This is an all-good god, no matter who sets the standard, is by definition incapable of action that is bad.
Let me move on to the notion of an all-knowing (omniscient) or all-wise god; although, I think there is some nuances between the two. An all-knowing god would have to be capable of at least knowing what is good or bad. But, this does not render this type of god from acting either way—good or bad. So, an all-knowing god could act either way. This type of god could act morally, but not of necessity. This type of god could also act immorally. But, if the question is understood as can a god not act immorally, than an all-knowing god could not be moral because this god could act badly. I am not saying that the question needs to be seen in this way. If you just take the plain sense, then an all-knowing god could indeed act morally.
I mentioned an all-wise god. This to me implies that this god would have perfect wisdom. Wisdom can be seen as the ability to act so as to advance the causes of life. To advance the causes of life could entail that one is only capable of doing good if one were all-wise. If this argument stands than all-wise god could not be moral in the sense that I have been speaking of.
I come now to the all-powerful god (omnipotent). This god is capable of doing anything by definition. Not only does this god have the power to do good things; this god also has the power to do bad things. So, this type of god can certainly be moral. It is only in combination with other aspects that would rendered this type of god amoral. But, then this god would not be all-powerful.
Taking all the “all” types of god in combination we have an amoral god because of this god’s all-goodness, and the all-wise kind if different from the all-knowing kind would also render the combo god amoral. However, the contradiction remains; an all-good god cannot act immorally, but an all-powerful god should be able to do anything, including acting immorally.
Does this combo god equate with the perfect god? Some would assume this since this combo god is often taken to be the type of god of the three major monotheisms. But, the whole of monotheism’s “sacred” scriptures do not support this. Case in point, god asks Adam where he is. An all-knowing god would not need to ask this question, unless you take it as a rhetorical question, but then why would an all-knowing god need to ask a rhetorical question. Another example of the biblical god not being an all-knowing one is the creation of Eve story. First god makes all sorts of animals to be companions to Adam before he creates Eve. Why would an all-knowing god do the first set of creations if as an all-knowing god he would have already known the inappropriateness of these other creations. What about to teach him a lesson? Then the biblical god could not be all-good because causing psychological stress would be to cause harm. An all-powerful god should not need to do this to teach Adam a lesson. Well, he needed to name all the animals. But the distress is still there, and an all-knowing god would not need Adam to name all the animals.* I am not familiar with the Koran, but it is my guess that you would find the same types of inconsistencies.
How would we know whether or not this combo god is a perfect god. After all, as most theist believe god’s ways are not our ways, so how would humans find out all the perfections of a perfect god. Thus, to call a god a perfect god does not tell all about this god.
If the equating of the combo god with a perfect god is taken as read, the combo god would have to be amoral, and hence not moral or immoral, according to my above conclusion.
I now want to move away from theistic types of gods to the deist (or creator) form. If a deist god creates the universe, and subsequently has no further interactions with it, can this god by its ongoing actions be moral or immoral? I would say no, but this does not let the deist god of the hook as far as morality is concerned. The reason why is that it is evident that this universe is not perfect, so bad things happen—it is just a fact of life for us humans and other feeling animals. Therefore, I would hold the deist god to be guilty of immorality, unless this god was incapable of eliminating all the bad things that have occurred since the creation. So, it is rather a toss up on the issue of whether or not a deist god can or could be moral. It depends on whether the deist god had the capability of eliminating bad things from the universe or not, and whether the deist god has any subsequent action that affects the universe or not.
Let us look at the pantheist type of god. A common definition of this type of god is that god is equivalent with the universe, so all the universe makes up god. Some versions include a transcendent aspect as well. For the strict equating of god and the universe it is unclear whether or not this type of god created the universe itself. If it did not than the pantheistic god would be amoral unless it would guide the universe from within. If it can guide the universe from within there is a case to be made that the pantheist god is morally responsible for its actions, both good and bad, of the universe. If transcendent, this would imply the possibility of creation by this type of god. If so, than this god would be as moral as the deist god, but still would be liable if not a creator god if it would guide the universe.
Well, this covers pretty much the monotheistic types of gods, or the ones I am familiar with. So, what about the polytheistic gods. There are several forms for these gods to take. They could be tribal gods, such as Yahweh was thought to have began as, according to what is in Hebrew scriptures.^ He turned into the solo monotheist god the further you move along in the Bible, excepting the creation stories; they could be nature gods, such as fertility gods and storm gods, as well as the animistic gods of Native Americans and Australian Aborigines; or they could be similar to the Greek or Roman gods, which are basically human with special powers and being immortal.
I would hold that tribal gods could be moral. Their actions can either benefit or harm. The same for nature gods. And, certainly the Greek and Roman style gods could act morally, often badly according the the myths written about them.
Well, this wraps it up accept for one more type of god—Baxter. Baxter is my cat and in many respects I worship him. I adore him and try to please him to the best of my ability. Baxter, being an animal, is generally not thought to be held responsible for his behavior like a human would. Sure, he appears guilty at times, but moral guilt usually includes some sense of right and wrong, and cats are just not capable of analysis of this kind. For one it takes language in which to express it in. So, Baxter, under these conditions, cannot act morally accept from the human perspective, which is a good enough reason to yell at him .
¹ See his Wild Minds: What Animals Really Think
* Plus, are we to imagine that Adam named the 300,00 to 400,00 types of beetles. Of course, beetles have evolved just like any other living organism, so the naming story does not make scientific sense.
^ I Should say as interpreted by some scholars.